Reject propagation of “politics of resentment” by Sanders and Trump
Ridicule and immaturity have been the defining characteristics of this year’s presidential race. Candidates’ tweets, debate speeches and campaign ads — they’ve all been rife with shameless “politics of resentment.” Two striking figures, in particular, have dominated the political and media landscape. They have won the hearts and minds of millions across a multitude of demographics. Age, gender, education and ethnicity all seem to be blind to these two candidates. They ostensibly come from opposite sides of the aisle, and yet, they are remarkably similar. They are Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.
First of all, neither has been a member of the political party whose nomination they hope to receive for long. For most of his life, Trump was a Democrat. Yuval Levin, the founding editor of National Affairs, has dubbed him the “least conservative Republican presidential aspirant in living memory.”
Sanders, a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist, is an Independent — the longest serving one in U.S. Congressional history.
Though only one calls for “political revolution,” both exploit people’s indignation with the political establishment by pandering to their crass emotions. Rather than attracting voters solely with their principles or ideas, Trump and Sanders predominantly allure voters with their supposed non-politically correct authenticity.
This has been enabled in part by the nature of their campaign financing; more than 66 percent of Trump’s has been self-funded, according to PolitiFact, and over three-fourths of Sanders’ donations have been amounts under $200, according to a March 17 BBC article. In comparison, only about 17 percent of Hillary Clinton’s funding has been of that type. Both candidates, in their presumed independence from crony politicians and wealthy bankers, have earned the trust of many. According to a Feb. 17 Quinnipiac University poll, 87 percent of American Democrats regard Sanders as “honest and trustworthy,” and 60 percent of American Republicans believe those same qualities describe Trump.
Trump’s rhetoric is spontaneous, candid and unfiltered whereas the enduring Sanders machine, unchanging throughout his political career, is refined and consistent. Trump is reactionary; Sanders repeats simple points. Sanders is predictable where Trump isn’t, but both use their unique style to portray themselves as genuine, disruptive and anti-establishment candidates who understand the so-called common cause and claim to speak for the “silenced majority.”
Even the way they assign blame is comparable, though the object of such blame differs. Trump, the insolent demagogue, is most known for his xenophobic insults and disposition to blame fringe groups.
According to an Aug. 25, 2015 Huffington Post article, he condemns Mexicans for “export[ing] crime and poverty,” as well as raising the cost of healthcare and education. While these claims may have some legitimacy, the causation Trump posits is dubious at best. He scapegoats these groups and vilifies them accordingly.
Trump’s professed concern with America’s security has driven him to call for the building of a “great, great wall on [the United States’] southern border” and a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” according to a Dec. 7 Washington Post article. His hyperbolic policy prescriptions are impractical, and yet as entertainment, they have earned him a disproportionate amount of media coverage.
Regardless of how praiseful or critical, most of this attention has served only to strengthen his campaign and augment his appeal.
Sanders also generalizes heavily in his claims. In speeches and campaign material, he maintains that America’s most affluent population is responsible for the sizable disparity in wealth and income inequality pervading the United States. Regarding employment, Sanders calls for increased Wall Street tax reform and an enormous redistribution of wealth through the public programs he intends to establish, such as universal single-payer health care and “free” education.
Both characters play on the intrinsic human desire to evade personal responsibility by pinning the blame for issues — mostly those related to the economy — on largely unseen groups. Blaming certain groups is well-received by Americans because it relinquishes them of individual accountability and offers them the possibility that their given issue is the fault of someone else.
While some people may at first embrace this freedom from accountability, in the end, this is insulting, belittling and antithetical to the idea of the “American Dream” our country has embraced since its founding.
For Trump, the object of blame is the more than 200 “people, places, and things” — counted by a Jan. 28 New York Times article — he has insulted during his campaign, most notably Mexicans and Muslims. For Sanders, it is Wall Street and the one percent.
This phenomenon is not new. For the Populist Party of the late 19th and early 20th century, it was the Jews. Huey Long, an early 20th-century politician from Louisiana, was perhaps one of the most well-known politicians of the Populist Party. He was also strikingly similar to Trump and Sanders.
As a populist, Long appealed to the — often crass — base emotions of his constituency. Emerging as a significant contender to Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936, Long played on the fears and exasperation of the people to garner an inordinate amount of media attention. He accepted only cash donations and was, thus, like Trump and Sanders, unbound by any traditional benefactors.
Long’s “Share Our Wealth” program was his most famous, which he first announced in 1934 as then-governor of Louisiana. Predicated on wealth distribution, Long’s program sought to dignify each American family household by providing them with a $5,000 grant accumulated from taxes on the rich.
What Trump, Sanders and Long all have in common is that they are or were visionaries whose one-size-fits-all philosophy beguiled the American people. Their means may be different, but their goals are very similar.
The American people have grown to expect Trump to actually “Make America Great Again,” as if this slogan entails some thoughtful policy that’s actually proven its efficacy in practice.
Sanders’ vows to tax the “millionaires and billionaires” have all but brought other Americans to fall head-over-heels for his policies.
I am not entirely equating Trump and Sanders, merely drawing attention to their striking similarities. Ultimately, America needs a president who champions more than “politics of resentment,” which, as Marco Rubio said in his March 15 concession speech, would “leave us a fractured nation.”
America needs a president who embodies “intellectual depth and philosophical consistency, respect for ideas and elevated rhetoric, [and] civility and person grace,” as Peter Wehner put in a March 21 TIME magazine article. Our presidential candidates must renounce “politics of resentment” and behave like the sensible, polished statesman they are campaigning to become.